As the movie theater lights dimmed my mother was practically jumping in her seat as she was unable to contain her excitement. “A fully ASIAN cast, Jess!” she had repeated again and again. I smiled and agreed that it was amazing, but not quite sure why it was so revolutionary to her.
My mother immigrated to the United States when she was three years old. Our family is Dutch Indonesian. Most people have the same reaction when I tell them this. They turn their head and squint their eyes, trying to picture how this supposedly odd mix is possible. To make it simple, the Dutch colonized Indonesia. Our culture is a unique blend of European traditions and Indonesian food and personality.
When I first heard that a movie version of Crazy Rich Asians was going to be released, I wasn’t necessarily floored with excitement. I thought that it was wonderful that Asian culture and actors would get the representation they deserved, but I didn’t think that I would relate to it. I’d never really thought of myself as Asian, or at least not “Asian enough” to think of myself as Asian. After all, I was born in the United States. I spoke English and Dutch but not one of the hundreds of Indonesian dialects. I knew how to cook the dishes and some of the slang, but I really felt lost with exactly where I fit in culturally.
As the movie began, I was instantly entranced by the witty humor, the glamorous clothing and scenery, and of course the beauty that is Henry Golding Jr., but even more importantly, I felt a sense of familiarity as I watched the family interactions. Even though my family was neither rich nor Chinese, I could see my family in their place. I’d never experienced that before while watching a movie.
I started projecting my own family dynamics onto the characters. The way that Eleanor pretends to ignore the drama while focusing on the Bible but ultimately being the main orchestrator was a characteristic I’d seen many times in my grandmother. The chattering and bickering between the aunties was something I’d seen in my own aunties. The constant meddling, the insane speed that word got around, the keeping the family name pure, all of it. I’d seen it all.
But perhaps the most important one I’d seen was Rachel Chu struggle with where she fit in culturally. She wasn’t “Asian enough” for the Young family. I saw myself in her and that was incredible. And then seeing that she got the happy ending, she was comfortable with who she was brought tears to my eyes.
Cultural representation is so crucial in the media and film industry. It gives people who have never really experienced a cultural sense of belonging that much needed experience. It gives a feeling of not being alone. And of course it’s entertaining.
I drove home to watch Crazy Rich Asians with my mom the day that it came out on DVD. We laughed and cried, loving every second of it.
Story by: Jessica Stagg
Photo by: Christien Weidige, Unsplash.com